Tag Archives: Robin Zander

What Decade is This, Anyway?

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel...dizzy?

Seems like a lot of famous bands from my wonder years want to get one last album out before the world explodes into dust in 2012. Probably time for an arena tour too, although I don’t know why they’d need all that cash. Don’t you only need new Nikes and a roll of quarters to board the spaceship?

I guess what triggered this post today was remembering that The Cars are regrouping and releasing a brand new album (Move Like This). Now a quartet since Ben Orr is no longer with us, the band decided they didn’t want to bring in any outsiders. Well, that’s their take on it with Ric Ocasek in the fold, anyway; they are conveniently not mentioning a failed experiment called The New Cars. But that’s just picking nits.

Videos: The Cars – Blue Tip” (full song), “Sad Song” (clip),  “Free“(clip)

And it doesn’t end there. Steve Miller resurfaced with Bingo last year after a very long hiatus, and now he has another called Let Your Hair Down. Former Babys and Bad English frontman John Waite is releasing Rough and Tumble, pouting puss and all. The New York Dolls continue their rebirth (albeit with another change in band members) with Dancing Backwards In High Heels, and R.E.M. has Collapse Into Time.

Low Country Blues is Gregg Allman’s first solo release in fourteen years. Paul Simon will turn seventy this year (!) but So Beautiful Or So What ends five years of (sounds of) silence for him.

More recent bands are also ending extended vacations. The Strokes have their first in five years as do the Foo Fighters, and Radiohead ends an even lengthier one with The King Of Limbs. Social Distortion has already blazed back on the scene with Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, and most of Oasis is back under the name Beady Eye.

Video: Beady Eye – The Roller

And even artists I avoid like Duran Duran, Stevie Nicks and Edie Brickell are taking another shot. (Brickell nauseates me so thoroughly that I’m not even providing a link.)

Amazon is even dangling an order for Robin Zander’s Countryside Blvd for the third year in a row. I’m starting to think there’s really no album at all. Look at that album cover – maybe he’s just mocking Toby Keith. Ludicrous suggestion? Anything is possible – remember, this really happened.

Hey kids, rock and roll. Rock on.

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New Album! Bleu

(Well, not brand new. But I do hold these back until after the print magazines have hit the racks.)

In 2003, Bleu’s Redhead album blew me away. I was on that one so hard and so fast, Columbia used my pull-quote on the front cover of the album. It came out early in the year and I predicted it would hold off all contenders, and it did – I voted Redhead as the best album of the year.

Fast-forward through the next dog year, and Bleu is recording a few one-offs, working with other artists, joining an ELO-inspired collective and even forming a pop geek supergroup with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle. And now, finally, that carefully Watched Pot.

I think Bleu has a lot in common with Butch Walker – he’s so talented that the tendency is to have him do too many things at once. And if I were that fortunate, to be both talented and in demand, who is to say I wouldn’t say yes more than I should? At least that’s what I surmise is happening, for as good as A Watched Pot is, I feel…well, to follow his metaphor, that it never quite boiled.

So here’s what I wrote for the latest Bucketfull of Brains.

I guess the pun here is that “a watched pot never boils“, and in fact this third album was bottlenecked by label apathy and the artists’ own perfectionist tendencies. Not that Bleu McAuley hadn’t been a busy guy since moving from Boston to the west coast; collaborating with pop savant Mike Viola (and Bleu’s Beantown producer/drummer Ducky Carlisle) in The Major Labels, and releasing a blatantly affectionate ELO nod (L.E.O.’s Alpacas Orgling). But this on-and-off project has taken quite a while to see the light of day. Maybe the formulaic music industry wasn’t cooperating, or maybe (as he sings in the first track) “nobody saved me from myself”. The irony is that while the pot is here, the contents are not exactly boiling.

I don’t think there’s a film using “There’s No Such Thing As Love” as its title theme, nor “Save Me” or “When The Lights Go Out” (the stunning vocal duet with Sandra McCracken). But if I were a screenwriter I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate them; hell, the arrangements are so huge that they would be tempted to write a screenplay around them. On most of the songs Bleu sounds like he’s going for the brass ring, seeking either the big hit single or (via a cover version by a name artist) the big royalty opportunity.

Carlisle and John Fields have helped sculpt a huge aural platform for his songs, both lyrically and musically complex. And Bleu’s wordplay and sense of humor is firmly in place as is his subtle sinister side. Much like the stalker reveal in Redhead’s beautiful “Watching You Sleep”, his “I Won’t Fuck You Over” seems apologetic…until the very last Hitchcock-ian phrase. And  I suspect the clever Bleu used the amusing tale of opposites attract in “Boy Meets Girl” to take a subtle shot at reviewers trying to pigeonhole his music (“it’s like Jesus Jones and The Rolling Stones  in a game of Twister“).

My first impression was a bit of disappointment that Bleu didn’t rock out a little; some of the more engaging songs on Redhead had a little more energy behind them, like “I Won’t Go Hollywood” and “Could Be Worse”. Aside from “Kiss Me” – which crosses 60’s Motown with 70’s Philly Soul – everything on A Watched Pot is pensive and lush. But when I revisited Redhead I realized it had the same ratio of tempos; it was jus that those two songs jumped out more from the pack. 

Those seeking the power in powerpop might be a little put off by the slower, more dramatic pace and struggle to take it in a single gulp. But there is no denying Bleu’s uncanny ability to create majestic pop songs with huge arrangements, and when they are sung by what might be the best pop voice since Robin Zander, that’s a small nit to pick.

Bleu on MySpace

Video for “There’s No Such Thing as Love“. (Damn…I should have been a photographer.)

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New Album! Cheap Trick

As we approach the year end best-of lists, I’ll post reviews of a couple of more contenders for best of 2009. This review ran in the print edition of Bucketful of Brains.

Two songs on the new Cheap Trick album are less than ninety seconds long. The first (“Sleep Forever”) is an odd choice for an opener, a somber tribute to a fallen friend that no doubt will be played or sung at many funerals. Almost an acapella performance, it immediately serves notice that while other veteran rock vocalists are playing in lower registers, Robin Zander’s voice is as stunning as ever. The second, “Everyday You Make Me Crazy” is an infectious rocker that would be a highlight on Voices or Dream Police. One of their catchiest riffs on an album loaded with hooks, it ends far too soon. And “California Girl”, “Alive” and “Sick Man of Europe” (a post-Nazz, pre-CT band of Rick Nielsen’s) all rock just as hard and are standouts.

But the bread and butter on this one might be a series of mid-tempo melodic tracks that mine the same vein as “The Flame” – “These Days” and “Everybody Knows” are textbook structure. “Smile” and “Times of our Lives” will have those Bic lighters – excuse me, cell phone screens – swaying back and forth as the ladies swoon. Producer Julian Raymond did a nice job getting Zander’s pipes out front and center, a challenge he does not back down from. In fact, the entire band sounds rejuvenated, with Tom Petersson’s fluid bass playing a nice return to form.

Raymond also shaped the sound of this record to straddle the decades; it’s current and fresh sounding but frequently recalls the bombast of the early albums. By covering the Slade track “When the Lights Are Out”, Cheap Trick simultaneously pays homage to its own classic pop past while taking a page from the Oasis songbook (and then kicking them in the nads with it). Ditto “Closer, The Ballad of Burt and Linda”, which outdoes the Gallaghers’ attempts to surf the psychedelic edge of the Fab Four.

Some might complain that many of the songs are too derivative – “Miracle” apes Lennon circa “Mind Games” in structure and vocal style; strains of “Within You Without You” are woven into the coda of “Times of our Lives”. And some of these songs are not brand new; some have been floating around in one form or another for years. So what? After thirty-five years, the fact that a band can still be this good – newly relevant, even – is more than enough. Not many artists can clear their own high bar at this stage of the game, but count The Latest among the band’s strongest efforts.

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NEW ALBUM! Tinted Windows

Pure Pop for Then People

Pure Pop for Then People

I’m going to lay my cards on the table right up front, so if you want to be one of the snarky majority you can click away now. Because I’m here to tell you that Tinted Windows – the self-titled album from Bun E. Carlos, Adam Schlesinger, Taylor Hanson and James Iha – is the best pop record anyone has released to date in 2009.

(Waits for snarky people to laugh…or leave…)

Sample this, mofos.

This album rockets right out of the box with “Kind of a Girl” and doesn’t let up, which is no surprise considering Fountain of Wayne‘s Adam Schlesinger wrote the first four tracks (and seven of the eleven songs overall – eight if you count the co-write with Hanson). “Kind of a Girl” is jukebox glory; it has the big hooks, the octave choruses, the machine gun drums and Hanson’s best Robin Zander impression. Like a few songs on the album, it’s reminiscent of Cheap Trick‘s landmark In Color album (look no further than the ‘c’mon c’mon’ within “Messing With My Head”, another single in waiting). Adam’s second best contribution is the rocking “We Got Something”, which hopefully follows “Kind of a Girl” out of the chute as a single. It’s classic 70s powerpop with a more muscular mix.

But the killer single here might be track 3, the power ballad “Dead Serious” – I don’t think I’ve heard a better radio song all year. It is a monster. You give this track to any American Idol contestant, any young pop star being marketed to the melodic pop crowd…hell, any country-pop female from Kelly Clarkson to Shania Twain and they could top the charts with it. It’s that simple. It’s that infectious. It’s that perfect. But the industry isn’t going to let a man band run with this, even if the lead singer is as close to a teenybop idol as the rock world has at the moment.

“Dead Serious” live at SXSW.

James Iha adds a hooky mid-tempo “Back With You” (Bryan Adams would top the charts with this) along with the riff rocker “Cha Cha”(if The Sweet reunites, this is a natural). Hanson’s two efforts are solid pop as well; “Nothing To Me” again sounds like a Big Star track ghostwritten for Zander, and the co-write with Schelsinger (“Take Me Back”) is classic stutter-stop power-pop, complete with those ooh-ooh-ooh choruses that make girls swoon. Bubblegum pop so sticky sweet that you’ll need to wipe your hands after listening…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But despite all of the above, this album and band/project (whichever it turns out to be) will ultimately fall a bit short. Why? Because there is no market for power-pop. Every one of these tracks would sound just fine blasting from the radio, especially in summer, but the likelihood of that peaked thirty to forty years ago. Powerpop doesn’t have a fan fest. Powerpop doesn’t have a video channel. Powerpop doesn’t go well with skateboards and hoodies.

You could give these songs to Pink and she’d make an album that would sell millions with minimal changes to the arrangements. Shania would have Mutt country-punch the production and she’d revive her career. Britney Spears could even have her people douse these songs in beats, ridiculous echo and synth programming and hire forty dancers…but if she cut these songs people would take her seriously again.

But any of those people – and more – would probably just fuck it up anyway. Instead we have the right men for the job, albeit at the wrong time. It’s too bubblegum for Cheap Trick. It’s too consistently rocking for Hanson. It’s too lyrically adolescant for Fountains of Wayne. And as far as Smashing Pumpkins…well, it doesn’t suck.

But whoever cobbled this foursome together hit the bullseye – a great songwriter, a classic pop drummer, a chunking power chord guitarist and a cherubic vocalist. They sound like they’re having a blast and most importantly they play to their strengths. Iha proved on his solo album that he’s not a front man, but he has chops; likewise Schlesinger knows these songs are more about hooks than message and need to be sung by a younger, more enthusiastic pop star. Carlos, as always, is a rock solid foundation. They released a great album. Hopefully the lads will look in the tinted mirror and tell themselves  “We Got Something”.

All those bad reviews are missing the whole point. They are wrong. I am right.

But stop reading and let your ears decide.

 Live version of “Cha Cha”

Live version of “We Got Something”

Video for “Kind of a Girl”

Video for “Messing With My Head”

NOT Tinted Windows.

Frankenstein project, monster hits.
Frankenstein project, monster hits.

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